Homily for Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ 2006

The Socceroos and Maroons have had some wins this week but, alas, not the Bronkos! Sport has such a high profile, and no wonder. Many people turn off all the bad news we are confronted with every day. Some do not watch the news on TV because of the reports of depravity and violence. Even the violence at the World Cup in Germany remind us that such evil is never far away even though we try to escape it. Still, sport is one of the things that can lead to a more civil society.

Confirmation and First Eucharist celebrations are our way of affirming the reality of Christian hope in this world. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a reminder to us that love has won a great victory in Christ.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ the liturgy looks first of all back to the covenant God made with Moses, as we heard in the first reading (Exodus 24:3-8). There was a great distance between God and the people. Only Moses could approach God and receive the Word. This Word Moses took to the people who responded, “All that the Lord has said we will do.” Then Moses set up an altar on which offerings were made to seal that covenant. The life blood of animals was sprinkled on the altar and on the people indicating the unity with God that the covenant promised. The sacrificed meat was eaten as a pledge symbolising that it is God's word which will nourish them.

Nevertheless, a great distance remained between God and his people. It was only Moses who could mediate. It was only oxen and other animals which were offered. It was an external ritual. The people could remain at a safe distance and need not be whole hearted in their commitment. It could easily be lip service. It is this inadequacy of the Temple sacrifices that the letter to the Hebrews refers today (Hebrews 9:11-15).

With Jesus it is different. There is no distance between Jesus words and his actions. He practices what he preaches perfectly. There is no distance between Jesus and the Father, they are one. There is no distance between Jesus and the disciple. He became a human being. There is no distance between the offering he makes and himself: he is both priest and victim. He is totally giving of himself to the Father in his obedience.

The good news is that, because we are one with him, we too have access to the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple was entered only by the High Priest and only once a year. But that place, too, was only made of stones. Jesus has entered once and for all the holy place not made of stones but the very presence of God.

The offering Jesus made on the cross is one that we are part of as well because we are one with him. So the Eucharist is meant to inflame us with the fire of the same love of Christ for the world.

(See the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Chapter 1, Paragraph 10.)

In recent years the church has been preoccupied with internal matters. And rightly so. But this has meant that we have focused on ourselves and our piety and our internal ministries too much. We have neglected in our thinking, if not in our practice, the love that reaches out to the world. As John Chrysostom says of the Eucharist:

Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do you not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and gave me no food”; and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers [and sisters] you did also to me”. What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother [or sister] is dying of hunger. Start by satisfying his [or her] hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.

(John Chrysostom, In Evangelium S. Matthaei, hom, 50:3-4; PG 58, 508-509. Cited by John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia [Encyclical Letter on the Eucharist in relationship to the Church], footnote 34.)

Christ is present to me. But he is present for me and the whole Church for the world . The Eucharist impels us out towards our brothers and sisters. The news we hear may be all too often bad and depressing. But it is to that world that Christ was sent by the Father and to which he sent his church at Pentecost: Christ does not want there to be a distance between himself and anyone who suffers.

The Eucharist is an un-bloody sacrifice, as we say, unlike the sacrifices of Moses or of the Jewish Temple. But it was very bloody for Jesus himself. (There are a few verses omitted in the middle of today's gospel extract which tell of the betrayal by Judas showing that the Eucharist is very much concerned with justice.) Violence and death were never far away form Jesus. His suffering and death which we proclaim in the Eucharist is also the cry of all those who suffer anywhere in the world. That is the challenge which the Eucharist puts before us and even the young children who make their First Communion: love one another as I have loved you.

Fr Graham